Jose Maria Lopez (Citroen Racing C-Elysee) steers his car during the qualifying opening round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) on April 12, 2014 at the Moulay el-Hassan circuit in the southern Agdal district of Marrakesh, Morocco (Getty)

WTCC: Citroen Dominates Carnage In Marrakech


As a lover of touring car racing, yesterday’s opening rounds of the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) felt like a really bad joke.

Because it certainly didn’t feel like touring car racing at all – let alone the premier touring car series in the world.

Any attempts at close racing ending in shattered bodywork and penalties from the stewards. Some of the world’s best tin-top drivers left hobbling around with arms aloft in confusion. And the dominant team resorting to team orders to lead their cars home in formation, meaning not a single battle for the lead across the weekend – despite only EIGHT cars left at the conclusion of hostilities.

This was NOT touring car racing of any description – it was an utter shambles.

Let’s breakdown just why the opening rounds of the 2014 WTCC on the Marrakech street circuit in Morocco were just so bad. And the main reason is quite simple: the new TC1 racecar, which bares about as much resemblance to a touring car as I do to Johnny Wilkinson. Certainly it hasn’t taken on board any of the lessons the Next Generation Touring Car in the BTCC has taught us. The NGTC was founded on simple principles: a cost-effective chassis which allows any team, privateer or manufacturer, to build a racecar of their choice using the body and engine of pretty much any production saloon or hatchback, and go racing competitively no matter what the budget. The proof is in the pudding – record grids this season, a huge mix of manufacturers and cars, and a variety of independents and constructors challenging for wins and the title no matter what the budget.

Clearly the FIA ignored ALL of those things when developing the TC1 specification racecar for WTCC. When you have top drivers describing it as ‘feeling like a GT car’ (Tom Chilton, TouringCarTimes) and averse to contact due to a reliance on aero, you know something has gone badly wrong. I find it strange how the FIA has been promoting F1 as needing to be more ‘relevant’ to car manufacturers, and yet with touring car racing – perhaps the most relevant racing discipline in the world – they have made them even less like the cars on the street. And in this case, more like third-rate DTM cars designed by someone slamming tequila shots. Not to mention how the new cars seem prohibitively expensive to build and run, unless you’re a manufacturer. Called Citroen. But more on that later.

WTCC Marrakech 2014

WTCC Marrekech 2014 – Sebastian Loeb leads in his Citroen C-Elysse. Credit: http://www.lemagsportauto.com/

So that was the FIA’s first big mistake. The second one was taking all these new, very expensive, very fragile racecars and putting the first round on a narrow street circuit full of concrete walls and tank-trap rumble stripes. With cars so flimsy that the slightest contact is enough to have entire parts of bodywork falling off, and with little to no spare parts amassed yet, what in Andy Rouse’s name were they thinking when someone signed off Marrakech as the opening round of this year’s WTCC? With a round in Paul Ricard the very week after?

Unsurprisingly, cars started dropping like flies way before racing even began in earnest. Gabrielle Tarquini’s factory Honda was out of commission after a single practice shunt, and cars ended up littering the circuit with mechanical failures after barely a handful of laps in race 1. However, the worst was yet to come. As Race 2 began with a reversed top ten grid, Tom Coronel’s Chevrolet moved Grosjean-style over to try to defend from Mehdi Bennani’s Honda. Neither driver was gonna budge, so predictably there was contact. However, what would normally have been a wall-scuff turned into a spectacular explosion of body panels as Coronel’s car ricocheted off one wall and back across the track,  taking out Yvan Muller’s Citroen in the process. By the end of another 14 laps, only eight new TC1 cars were left running, and both Coronel and Muller look to be doubtful as to whether they will get their cars fixed in time for round 2.

Whilst the BTCC is celebrating 30-car grids, it’s not out of the question that the WTCC will be lining up for round two with just 13 cars or less. For touring car racing, this is a disgrace – how on Earth are drivers supposed to race when the slightest contact can put cars out of commission not only for that race, but for the entire weekend and beyond?

In amongst all this was Citroen, who utterly dominated the entire weekend, with their 3 cars regularly 1-2 seconds faster per lap. With an awesome driver lineup of 2013 champion Muller, rally legend Sebastian Loeb, and Argentine star Jose Maria Lopez, we’d surely have some excellent racing between those three for bragging rights in the elite – much like Mercedes in F1 currently, or the Ford team in the 2000 BTCC.

Nope. Not when team orders came into effect after the first corner of the first lap.

WTCC Marrakech 2014 Citroen Racing

WTCC 2014 Marrakech Citroen Racing. Credit: http://www.lemagsportauto.com/

You can perhaps understand their caution, with cars dropping like flies all around them, but it was still hugely galling to see the top three effortlessly cruising around in formation making absolutely no attempts to overtake each other. In race 2 we had Loeb and Lopez breezing past their opponents like prototypes alongside GT cars, but as soon as they hit the front, that was that. Shut up shop and bring them home. And as much as it was an excellent media story to see Loeb grab his debut touring car win in the opening weekend, and nice to see Citroen making such a strong debut, it was merely the final insult to a weekend that made the WTCC look like an amateur laughing stock.

Alain Menu was quoted in pre-season interviews that he took a BTCC drive mainly because there were no offers from the WTCC incoming. In hindsight he must be chuckling to himself – he’s certainly in the far superior series this year.

One that actually knows what touring car racing is all about.

Tags: British Touring Car Championship BTCC Chevrolet Citroen Featured FIA Honda Jose Maria Lopez LADA Marrakech Mehdi Bennani Morocco Popular Sebastian Loeb Tom Coronel World Touring Car Championship WTCC Yvan Muller

  • Daniel

    What a load of nonsense and it’s a shame the author cannot see past his own British-based bias. Citroën won because they are the most professional team, and the others were crashes on a street circuit. We’ve seen far worse driving in the BTCC in the past. The FIA do not set the calendar, Eurosport Events do, and that was the only big mistake made over the weekend.

    TC1 cars are better looking than the old TC2T cars. In addition, TC1 is more interesting to manufacturers because it allows them to use their own parts – equally NGTC is not interesting to a manufacturer as much because the cars are partly the same under the hood. True touring car racing is also about technical individuality, not just the shape of the lights on the front of the car!

    Go home, do your homework and come back in a few months once the regulations have picked up. NGTC didn’t take off in it’s first 12 months as fast as we’ve had new TC1 cars built for WTCC.

    • Team Bombersports TV

      I appreciate your points, but no need to be quite so patronising. And btw, I am the author as well :)

      1) No British bias here, I will be the first to say that the WTCC was a great racing series between 2005-2010 or so, while my native BTCC wasn’t much cop.

      2) Citroen won because they had an entire season last year to test and perfect their car whilst the others were still competing in the series – it happens, I wasn’t criticising Citroen for being faster than everyone, it just rarely happens in touring car racing, and even when it does, like Chevrolet in recent years in WTCC, they have been allowed to race each other.

      3) We have seen worse driving in the BTCC in the past (namely when Giovanardi arrived on the scene), which is why it’s even less of an excuse to see such amateur behaviour at times (from both drivers and stewards) in the world’s premier tin-top series.

      4) They are better looking, yes, but they look too far away from their road-going counterparts and too far like silhouettes, which is the antithesis of touring car racing in it’s purest form. And speaking of which, true touring car racing in my mind is close, hard racing between simple machines based on the ones the fans drove to the circuit. NGTC may have less manufacturer-specific parts, but that also means more competitors can be involved – I would rather have a 30-car grid full of machines that can potentially win races, with only 2 manufacturers officially involved, than a 15-car grid featuring 3 manufacturers, 1 customer, and the races decided by which manufacturer has invested the most in their programme.

      5) Not really an excuse as the NGTC regulations were introduced more leniently, with the new NGTC cars getting plenty of races under their belt in both 2011 and 2012 whilst still competing against the established order. The WTCC has introduced the TC1 cars completely cold into racing, ergo we are seeing mechanical problems and issues. I am aware it is likely that regulations will improve – see NASCAR with it’s Gen-6 and others – but I look at things like the V8 Supercars with it’s COTF, to demonstrate how a new car spec can be introduced smoothly without devaluing a championship season due to gremlins and ‘getting up to speed’.